Underwater Explorers

Last Saturday I attended a wonderful program by the Michigan Shipwreck Research Association—a group of divers who search for sunken ships in the Great Lakes. I attended their presentation last year and it inspired me to include a shipwreck in my upcoming novel. This is exciting stuff!

These shipwreck experts start their adventures the same way I start a novel—by doing research. They comb through piles of public documents, newspaper reports and eyewitness accounts to narrow down the wreck’s possible location. They search photos and drawings for the ship’s distinguishing details, such as size and profile. This research phase can be a treasure hunt in itself! But if they do their job well, the expedition has a better chance of success when the exploration phase begins.

Exploration involves creating an imaginary grid over the suspected area of the wreck and slowly sailing back and forth, using sonar to detect a sunken ship on the bottom of the lake. Scanning for hours and hours, days on end, sounds tedious to most people, but I sensed the experts’ excitement in this step of the search, too. It requires expertise to examine the grainy sonar pictures and interpret the findings. And when a sunken ship was finally spotted, everyone celebrated. I suppose most people would find my job tedious, sitting at a computer day after day, typing page after page, chapter after chapter until my novel is finished. While it appears to be boring, it takes expertise to create a story and get the words precisely right. And wise authors also celebrate their successes, big and small.

The last phase of underwater discovery is obviously the most enjoyable for these veteran divers. Armed with cameras and scuba equipment, the team finally has a chance to dive on the site and explore the wreck. I watched in fascination as ghostly images of these once-stately ships appeared on the theater screen, encrusted with shells, lying in their final resting places. I listened to the dramatic stories of their demise, usually due to violent storms. The divers became underwater detectives, solving the mystery of why and how each vessel sank, and where the ship and its crew came to their final end.

On one of the deeper dives, the team could spend only 30 minutes exploring the wreck before making the nearly two hour journey back to the surface, pausing to adjust to the changing pressure and avoid the deadly bends. I marveled at such disciplined devotion! Why do these divers do it? Since removing treasure from these wrecks is strictly forbidden, why make such a huge commitment of time and energy and finances to explore a sunken ship?

I suspect that the thrill of diving and solving a century-old mystery are rewards in themselves. But sometimes there are other surprises, too. In the audience on Saturday night was a gentleman who had been ten years old when he lost his father in the wreck of the William B. Davock, sunk during a storm on Lake Michigan seventy-five years ago. His father’s body was never recovered. Thanks to the work of these divers, the now-elderly gentleman was able to see images of his father’s final resting place and find closure after all these years. He sailed with the dive crew to the site on Lake Michigan and placed a memorial wreath in the water above his father’s grave.

I returned home from the program pondering why I write. There is some monetary gain, to be sure, but for me it’s also about the thrill of discovery and the satisfaction of seeing the results of my hard work and discipline in book form. Most of all, it’s about the joy I experience whenever I learn that one of my stories has touched someone’s life. I easily understood the joy those dedicated divers from the Michigan Shipwreck Research Association felt when they saw the tears of an eighty-five year old man who had waited a lifetime to find his father.

A Race to the Finish

The End Pic typewriterLife has its calm seasons and busy seasons, times when I can work at my leisure and actually enjoy what I do, and times when I’m forced to labor long into the night, fretting and worrying and racing to finish on time. Right now I’m in one of those crunch times. That’s because I’m within a few pages of finishing my newest novel and typing “The End.”

IMG_0524By now I know my characters and my plot very well. I know what my imaginary people were like in the beginning of the story and where I hoped they would end up. I’ve never piloted a jetliner but that’s what it feels like I’m doing in these final stages. I’ve been soaring high with great flights of imagination but now it’s time to land. I need to make sure all the plots and sub-plots are lined up correctly so I can touch down on solid ground and bring this enormous undertaking to a halt. If you’ve ever flown, I’m sure you remember how it feels to reach the airport terminal after a LONG journey, unbuckle your seatbelt, stand up straight, and give a sigh of relief that you’re finally home. That’s what it’s like when I type those wonderful words, “The End.”

typewriterIf I can land this novel within the next few days, I will have about a month remaining before my deadline. I’ll use that time to do a final read-through and another edit, tying up any loose ends and searching for ways to make the story even better. I can ask important questions like: Did I accomplish what I set out to do? Are my readers going to be drawn into the story and stay interested? Are they going to feel satisfied when they get to the end? … And how many tissues are they going to need? (I absolutely LOVE to read a book that makes me cry, don’t you?)

But to me, the most important part of this newly-finished novel is its spiritual content. Yes, I want to entertain my readers, but if my story doesn’t also give them a new insight, or help them through their own life journey, or remind them how very much God loves them, then my work is incomplete. I’ll be praying about this aspect of my novel too, as I read through it.

V__A7C1Once I turn in this book to my editor, I’m going to reward myself with a trip to Florida. That’s the carrot at the end of the stick I’m currently using to flog myself to finish. I have a wonderful vacation planned with my husband and our dearest friends. It includes lots of fun and laughter and good eating and bicycling. I posted these pictures from a previous trip beside my computer to keep me motivated during these final weeks of work.

But I can’t pack my bathing suit and bike helmet just yet. First I have to get back to work and get this book finished!P1030251

So how do you celebrate when all your hard work is finished?

Mule-Headed Stubbornness

Stubborn as a mule.
Stubborn as a mule. Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

I’ve had my stubborn moments. Times when I’ve refused to do what I’m asked. When I’ve folded my arms and refused to budge. An incident in seventh grade art class comes to mind. The teacher assigned a short research report on any famous artist we chose. I liked art class. I liked our teacher, an exotic woman who wore her hair in a chignon and dressed in Bohemian clothes and seemed wildly out-of-place in our boring, conventional village. Writing came easily to me. The report would have been an easy A and I was an A student. But for reasons I still don’t understand, I didn’t do the assignment.

When my children used to turn stubborn I would get angry. When my husband turns stubborn I get frustrated. But when a character in a novel I’m writing becomes uncooperative, I’m baffled. I know, I know, I created these “people.” They exist only in my mind. How can they turn rebellious? Aren’t I in charge? Well, in a word . . . no. Once I’ve created them along with a resume of their likes and dislikes, quirks and fears, family histories and dreams, they become “real.” If I try to make them do something “out of character,” it rings false. They have a right to turn stubborn.

Have you ever read a story where the main character does something that doesn’t feel right? Something that makes you want to throw the book across the room in frustration and vow never to read a book by THAT author again? I suspect that the character did refuse to do what the author wanted but was forced to comply against her will.

A Light to My Path IIOne character who turned against me and my well-plotted plans was Kitty from my Civil War novel, “A Light to My Path.” She was a plantation slave who was supposed to escape. I had done tons of research about the Underground Railroad that I was eager to use. Grady, a fellow slave who she loved, was escaping with her. Conditions were perfect for a night-time getaway. But when the “now or never” moment came, Kitty refused to go. Grady left without her. And I was left with a plotting dilemma.

Depiction of the Underground Railroad
Depiction of the Underground Railroad

I could have forced Kitty to go, and maybe it would have turned out okay. Or maybe readers would have thrown my book across the room. From the moment I created Kitty, she was beaten down by her life of slavery. Her real name was Anna but her spoiled mistress renamed her and forced her to pretend she was a cat. Kitty was too terrified of the consequences to ever disobey. Slaves were chased down and mercilessly whipped for escaping. I researched the mosquito-filled, alligator-infested swampland on her escape route, and believe me, even the bravest soul might have refused. Kitty was not brave. To run away would have been completely out-of-character for her.

I used this swamp as inspiration
I used this swamp as inspiration

I’m now facing another stubborn character in the novel I’m currently writing. She has a difficult choice to make, one that’s going to affect the rest of her life—and the rest of my novel. I know what I want her to do. Readers will probably want her to do the opposite. But I’m relinquishing all of my plots and plans and letting her decide. She has to remain true to herself. I’m granting her free will.

My seventh grade art teacher was very surprised when I failed to turn in my paper. It was so out-of-character for me as an A student that she believed she had lost my paper. She asked if I still had the rough draft. Of course I didn’t. I would like to say that I confessed—but I didn’t. She asked if she could give me a B for the assignment and I agreed. I feel the guilt and shame of my deception to this day.

galatians-220_5618_1024x768I hope I’ve developed more honesty and integrity as I’ve matured in my Christian life. The Apostle Paul writes in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” I hope it would be out-of-character for me now to behave in an un-Christ-like way. I long to be true to His character in all of the decisions and choices I make. To do otherwise after the price He paid as the Author of my salvation, would be sheer, mule-headed stubbornness.

The Last Step

The Restoration Chronicles

Authors perform hundreds of small steps in the process of publishing a book—some of them enjoyable and some…not so much. The last step is one of my favorites, and this week I had a chance to do it.

Researching in Jerusalem at Nehemiah's Wall
Researching in Jerusalem at Nehemiah’s Wall

Every novel I write begins as an idea—sometimes a grand one and sometimes just a tiny seed that needs to be nurtured. This involves brainstorming (alone and with my critique group), then researching (which is also an enjoyable step since it involves travel). Then I’m ready to start creating my characters. All of this takes about two months, and leads to the most time-consuming steps of all: writing drafts, and editing those drafts over and over and over for the next nine months until I’m happy with the result.

Behind the scenes at the photo shoot for "On This Foundation"
Behind the scenes at the photo shoot for the cover of “On This Foundation”

Somewhere along the way, (and long before the novel is finished), my publisher asks for a title and cover ideas, and I spend time collecting images and brainstorming titles. This is done ahead of time so the book can be listed in the sales catalogue. Sometimes my title and cover ideas are used…and sometimes they’re not. I’ll let you guess which makes me happier.

At last my book is finished. Well…not quite. Once I turn in my manuscript (hopefully by my deadline), my editor steps in. He and a team of in-house readers get to read it and comment on areas that might need more work. They give me about a month to “fix” these problems and make it a better book. Few authors want to hear that their “baby” isn’t perfect—including me. By now I’m weary of the manuscript and eager to start something new.

“On This Foundation” hot off the press!

But I make the necessary changes and the book moves to the final editing and proof-reading stages. I’ll see the manuscript two more times, once to view the editor’s changes and make any last minute changes of my own, and again when the page proofs are all laid out in their final form so I can check them for errors. Then it goes to the printer and becomes a “real” book. It’s a great feeling to finally hold the fruit of all my labors in my hands. But that’s not the last step. The very last step—and one of my favorites—is sharing the new book with my readers.

On October 1st, I signed books at the Kregel Parable Christian Store in Grandville, Michigan and met these wonderful ladies who belong to a book club:WP_000592

4And on October 10, I made more new friends when I spoke at Providence Christian College in Pasadena, California. Meeting my readers reminds me why I’ve been working so hard this past year, alone in my office for hours and hours, glued to my chair. It’s for all for them! Each time I begin a new book I ask God to use my words to touch someone with His love and grace. And even if only one reader is blessed, my labor is never in vain. When I meet readers at events like these, their stories and words of encouragement assure me that God is answering my prayer.

photo(2)Words are powerful things. I can’t begin to describe how a reader’s words of encouragement rejuvenate me. They motivate me to return to the work God has given me, and begin the year-long process of writing all over again. That’s why this last step is the best!

1-Thessalonians-5-11I’m sure you must have felt the power of an encouraging word in your life, too. If so, is there someone you can encourage in return today?

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up”(1 Thess. 5:11)

The Half-way Point

Old Books

Yesterday I reached the half-way point in the novel I’m writing. I figured that called for a celebration, so I went out to lunch with my sister-in-law. Now I confess that I’m a “seat of the pants” author who doesn’t lay out her plots ahead of time but who makes up the story as she goes along. So how do I know that I’m half finished? Simple. I know how many typewritten pages my last dozen novels were, so I calculated the average number of pages per book and divided it in half. Mathematically, I’ve now reached the half-way point—230 pages.

Never mind that I still don’t have a title for this book. And never mind that one of my characters has a heart-wrenching choice to make and I have no idea what she’ll decide. Or that another character has just agreed to marry a man she doesn’t love and I can’t talk her out of it. Never mind that I’ve killed off five of my favorite characters in various tragic ways (but for very necessary reasons), leaving me with a saddened and sorrowfully depleted cast to finish the story. I still thought it was appropriate to pause and celebrate the mythical, magical, mathematical half-way point.

typewriterAn interesting phenomenon happens to me (and to other writers, so I’ve heard) when we reach the middle of a book. Like marathon runners, we sometimes “hit the wall.” We run out of steam. We lose momentum. The race has begun to feel like work and we want to play. When this happens to me, my mind starts spinning plot ideas for the next novel and the one after that instead of plodding forward with my current plot. I get excited about meeting new characters, and I long to ditch the indecisive, needy ones I already have. They’ve become a bunch of malcontents, whining about the plot twists that entangle them, and growing petulant and uncooperative. I’ve threatened to kill off a few more of them if they don’t cooperate but it’s a bluff. I can’t risk running out of people before I run out of pages.

My board of characters
My board of characters

But all these wonderful, new characters! Ah! They’re dancing through my mind like the cast of a Broadway musical, bursting with laughter and fun and intrigue. “Come out and play,” they sing. Who cares about that woman who’s about to marry the wrong man? It serves her right if she ruins her life. And the indecisive one? Tell her to toss a coin and get it over with. There’s a new story to be written, a new game to play.

The End Pic typewriterSome writers say it’s best to go where your creativity leads and lay aside the half-finished book. Take time to develop all these great, new people and ideas while they’re fresh in your mind. Believe me, it’s tempting. But I know what will happen if I do. Sooner or later I’ll reach the half-way point in that book, and my once-energetic characters will start to slow down and sag and whine just like the last bunch. They’ll refuse to come out and play. The Broadway musical will close down. Meanwhile, I’ll have a deadline that has to be met. I need to type “The End” at the end of my half-finished book on January 15—a mere six months from now.

bible quoteSo I’ll enjoy my leisurely lunch—and then I’ll encourage myself to get back to work with these words: “Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).

Come on, all you shiftless, lethargic characters! On your feet! On with the show! You’re only half-way to the finish line!photo(2)

They say the hardest thing in a writer’s life is the chair.


It’s summer and the weather is gorgeous. Blue skies and plenty of sunshine, pleasantly warm but not too hot. I want to be here, at the beach, a short walk from my house . . .IMG_0758

But I know I need to be here, in my office, at my desk, working on my next novel . . .FullSizeRender(5)

After writing 22 books, I know that if I don’t discipline myself to stay focused and write five days a week, I’ll suffer the consequences when my deadline arrives. And my deadline always arrives a mere two weeks after Christmas. With my far-flung family coming home for the holidays, I don’t want to ruin that treasured time with frenzied writing.

So I’m continuing to write on these beautiful summer days, but I’m cheating…just a little. I’m trying to have my cake and eat it too, as I find time to write yet still enjoy summer. One way I’m doing it is by taking my laptop out on our porch when I need to catch up on my office work. I can even write a scene or two out there. With a cold iced tea and a nice breeze, it’s almost a mini vacation.FullSizeRender(6)

I stop working and have lunch outside on our deck instead of at my desk so I can enjoy the birdsong and the sound of the wind in the trees.

Last week, I researched some history about the setting of my current novel by going on a historical walking tour with a museum docent and a nice group of tourists. Add in lunch at an outdoor café with my hubby afterwards, and voilà! Another mini vacation.FullSizeRender(4)

When I needed some research materials from our library, hubby and I put on our biking duds and rode our bicycles into town and back—a twelve mile round-trip. The trail follows the lake for part of the way, offering great views. And did I mention there’s an ice cream stand along the way?FullSizeRender(2)

I set writing goals for myself every day, but I also know that I’m fresher and more creative when I get a chance to enjoy nature. So, I’ve been making a point to walk on the beach as often as I can, sometimes in the morning when the day is fresh and new, the sand washed clean of footprints. Sometimes in the afternoon when I can pause beneath a beach umbrella for an hour or so and read a book while my husband swims—the water is too cold for me! And sometimes in the evening, when we can watch the sun set over the lake and enjoy the first stars as they appear in the sky. There’s something about the smell of sunscreen and lake water, the soft shushing of the waves against the shore, the feel of sand between my toes, that makes me relax and all my worries about deadlines and plot twists seem to vanish.FullSizeRender(7)

So for me, a little taste of summer, then back to work at a job I love. Balance is the key—hard work tempered with the rest God ordained for us. I think this scripture sums it up best: “When God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work—this is a gift of God” (Ecclesiastes 5:19).FullSizeRender(3)

Thank you, Lord, for that gift!

Pursuing a Story

A Proper PursuitI’ve found inspiration for my books in some pretty strange places. Take A Proper Pursuit, for instance. That idea started when my book club read the popular book, The Devil and the White City by Erik Larson. I have to admit that I skipped the “devil” parts (much too gruesome!) but the story of the White City—the 1893 World Columbian Exposition held in Chicago—fascinated me. I lived in a Chicago suburb at the time so I began reading every book I could find about the White City. I studied photographs of the dazzling buildings and maps of the landscaped grounds until I started dreaming about them.

buildingsNext I took a trip to downtown Chicago to see the only building that remains from the exposition. It’s now the Museum of Science and Industry. Most of the White City’s structures were flimsily built and were never intended to last. But the present museum was the exception because it was the Fine Arts building at the time and housed great works of art on display from around the world.

Hull Houseimmigrants On my trips downtown I also researched some of the other exciting things going on in the city at that time. For instance, the world-famous evangelist Dwight L. Moody was very active in preaching the gospel. The ahead-of-her-time social reformer Jane Addams founded Hull House to help ease the plight of immigrants streaming to Chicago. And the Woman Suffrage Movement was working hard to win equal rights for women. For the first time ever, women were given the opportunity to create and host a pavilion at the Columbian Exposition to showcase their achievements.

young girlsNow I needed some characters, and I confess that the inspiration for my main character, Violet, came from a source very close to home—my daughter and her friends. These dynamic young women were just starting college at the time and the field of possible careers was wide open to them. They could be anything they wanted to be. But what if that wasn’t true? What if they lived in Chicago in 1893 and were bound by all the strict rules and mores of the Victorian era? Just imagining how they might have rebelled made me laugh! And so Violet was born.

ladiesThen there was this photograph, which was the inspiration for Violet’s Grandmother and Great Aunts: Mathilda (Matt), Agnes, Florence and Bertha (Birdie). You’ll have to read the book to guess which one is which. I found the picture in a box of old photographs that my sister-in-law gave me. They belonged to a deceased relative, and no one remembered who any of them were! I decided to bring them back to life in A Proper Pursuit. Grandma Florence became a social reformer with Jane Addams and D.L. Moody. Aunt Matt is a suffragette. Aunt Agnes is part of Chicago’s high society, and Aunt Birdie, who never quite recovered from her husband’s death in the Civil War 30 years earlier, spreads love wherever she goes.

All of these events and people became ingredients for my novel. Add in a few dashing (and not-so-dashing) love interests for Violet, and a mystery for her to solve . . . and A Proper Pursuit was one of the most fun novels I’ve written.

The Genesis of a Book

Candle in the Darkness IIOne of the questions authors are frequently asked is, where do our ideas come from. My answer? Everywhere! It seems different for me for each book. Since many of my readers have told me that Candle in the Darkness is their favorite book, here’s the story of how that novel came about.

dressesIt started when my musician husband, Ken, performed at a Civil War re-enactment with the “Yankee Brass Band.” I had never been to a re-enactment before, but as I wandered around the camp grounds and watched the mock battles, my creative juices began to flow. I interviewed dozens of participants and asked hundreds of questions. These re-enactors really know their history and are a treasure trove of information. The women gave me quite an education about the layers and layers of mysterious garments hiding beneath their voluminous skirts—and how they manage the privvy.

confederatesFilled with all this information and inspiration, I began researching the Civil War, planning a three-book series from three different viewpoints. The woman in the first book would be from the South, the second from the North, and the third would be a slave. Thanks to my local librarian, I found a diary entitled Richmond. During the War by Sallie Brock Putnam. This young woman lived in the Confederate capitol of Richmond,Virginia throughout the war, cheering enthusiastically for her beloved Confederate soldiers. She offers a day-by-day account of the fear she felt as the Union army advanced and how the sounds of cannon fire could be heard in the distance. Exciting stuff! She provided me with valuable information about which sites to explore on my research trip to Richmond.

wo and daughterAnother great resource was All the Daring of a Soldier by Elizabeth D. Leonard. She describes some of the amazing things that women did for both the North and the South during the war, including becoming spies. The woman in this picture ended up in prison with her little daughter for spying.

Picture1But the inspiration for my two main characters, Caroline and her faithful slave Eli, came from this photograph that I found during my research. The little girl is impeccably clothed in a white dress trimmed with lace; the slave’s clothing is worn and threadbare. Yet the love and trust between the two is obvious in the way they are holding onto each other. I knew I had to tell their story.

I keep all of these photographs on a bulletin board near my desk—the pictures copied from books and the ones I take myself on my research trips. And from all of these ingredients, and the spark of an idea that began at a Civil War reenactment, Candle in the Darkness was born.

Another Way to Tell a Story

FullSizeRender (2)One of my favorite ways to nourish my creativity is to feed off the creative gifts of others. I do this by reading a good novel or going to a concert or to the art museum, seeing a play or going to a quilt show. Last Thursday my creativity had a veritable Thanksgiving Day feast when my husband and I and three family members went to see an original ballet entitled “It is Well.” It was performed by the Turning Pointe School of Dance in Holland, Michigan.

What impressed me even before the show started, was reading about the dance troupe itself. The goal of this ministry, founded in 1999, is to offer “Christ-centered, wholesome, artistically pleasing entertainment for the entire family.” To accomplish this, the non-profit organization trains dancers—nearly 400 of them in the Western Michigan area—by following the motto, “preparing the dancer in body and spirit to glorify God through artistic excellence.”

IMG_3382The original performance I attended that night was based on a book I had read several years ago entitled Things We Couldn’t Say by Diet Eman. The Dutch author tells the true story of how she and her fiancé, Hein Sietsma, along with a group of their young friends in the Netherlands, risked their lives to save Jewish families after the Nazi invasion in 1940. Diet was only nineteen years old, but her Christian faith and the deep commitment to God that she and Hein shared made them willing to serve Him no matter the cost.

Their dangerous work with the Dutch resistance led to both of their arrests. Diet was imprisoned then sent to a concentration camp to await trial. In her book, she openly shares the spiritual struggles she experienced during that time and the anger and confusion she sometimes felt toward God. Yet her faith remained strong. Her fiancé Hein suffered imprisonment in multiple concentration camps during the course of the war, but his trust in God also endured. Diet was eventually released and continued working for the resistance until liberation. Hein died in Dachau Concentration Camp in Germany only a few months before the war ended.

Postcard-Front-It-Is-WellNow imagine this moving story set to music and interpreted by a team of creative, talented dancers. With only minimal narration, these artists conveyed all of the drama and emotional passion through movement and rhythm. We watched Diet and Hein meet and fall in love. We saw them working together to smuggle Jews out of danger. The darkness of the Nazi takeover was stunningly portrayed by a mass of dancers in simple black leotards who poured onto the stage and overshadowed the main characters, enveloping them in a gauzy black curtain. Another dancer beautifully symbolized the Holy Spirit’s presence in the concentration camp by lifting up Diet and her fellow inmates when they fell into despair and helping them raise their hands in prayer. As a writer, my medium of expression is words. This powerful experience of storytelling without words took my breath away.

FullSizeRenderI came home with the creative jolt I was seeking—and more. The performance was a vivid reminder of how each of us can make a difference by obeying God and using our gifts. Diet and Hein served in one of history’s darkest hours by offering themselves to God—and every Jewish family they hid during the war survived. The dancers and choreographers developed and used their talents to bring Him glory, and the audience that night was deeply moved. We were reminded that we’re called to serve Him every day, whether it’s through writing or through dancing or by simply offering a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name.

Hein wrote his last letter to Diet on a scavenged piece of paper and tossed it from his overcrowded railroad car on his way to Dachau. Miraculously, the letter was found and made its way to Diet after the war. Part of it reads:
“…even if we won’t see each other again on earth, we will never be sorry for what we did, that we took this stand.”farewell

I wonder how God wants me and you to use our gifts today to share His great love with a hurting world?

Spring Fever

Maya's iphone March 2014 594Everyone I know has Spring Fever, including me. The sun is shining, the sky is blue, and the snow is melting at last. The steady drip of snowmelt from the eaves outside my office sounds like a drumbeat, summoning me to come outside and play. The season of new beginnings is here.

Getting inspired at a Civil War Reenactment
Getting inspired at a Civil War Reenactment

And it’s a new beginning for my next writing project, too. My contract schedule has me handing in my manuscript in January then completing any changes my editor asks for in March. I’ve just finished that process and turned in all of my final changes and edits, so now I’m ready to start the process all over again with a new book.

But where will my ideas come from? How does the next story begin to form in my mind? Every author is different, but I begin by replenishing my supply of words. That means reading lots and lots of books. I choose authors who not only know how to tell a great story but also have an extraordinary love of language. I just finished two novels by one of my favorite writers, Rosamunde Pilcher, who can tell a gripping tale while painting word-pictures that are so vivid they can make me shiver: “Antony opened the front door, and the cold wind flowed in like a sluice of icy water.” Brr!

Wonderland creek
Me by the real life Wonderland Creek

At the same time, I start reading lots of non-fiction books about the historical time period or setting that I’ve chosen. This includes first-person accounts such as diaries or memoirs written by people who might have lived alongside my fictional characters. Whenever possible, I visit the setting for my new novel, taking photos and absorbing all the sights and sounds and smells, keeping track of them in a notebook for future use. I also love to ask people to tell me their love stories, or their God-stories, or their family’s story. (Warning: don’t ever tell me a story unless you’re not afraid to see it in one of my books!) I’m creating what I call “story soup,” tossing images and ideas and historical facts into a huge pot and letting it all simmer together in the back of my mind until I’m ready to start writing.

WP_000931One of the things I love to do while these ideas and images are simmering is to go outside in the gorgeous spring sunshine and sample God’s creative handiwork. I want the theme of His redemption to flow through all of my novels—how he takes what is broken and cold and dying and fills it with renewed life. And seeing the beauty of rebirth in nature as the snow melts and the new grass and spring leaves began to peek through,inspires me to tell of His goodness and grace all over again.

Maya's iphone March 2014 598After the overwhelming destruction and judgment of the flood, God promised Noah—and us—that “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease” (Genesis 8:22). We will always have seasons in life that feel like a long, dark, frigid winter—those times when life hits us in the face like “a sluice of icy water.” But He is the God of Springtime and new beginnings and second chances. He breathes life into the cold, dark corners of our hearts and we begin to find joy again. “Behold! I make all things new!” No wonder we have Spring Fever. Let’s go dance in the snow-puddles!